There are always bells in Japanese Buddhist temples. It’s not only a huge hanging bell. There are various kinds of small bells in the hall that do Buddhist ceremonies. Many Japanese who went to the temple ring the bell.
Especially it is famous for sounding 108 times on New Year’s Eve. In the countryside of Japan, you can hear the sound of bells from here and there.
Why do Japanese people ring the temple bells on New Year’s Eve? What meaning are we ringing the temple bells? I will explain why the Japanese ring the temple’s bell.
Four meanings of temple bell
What does the buddhist temple bell symbolize?
There are four main meanings in Japan.
- Meaning to purify myself and eliminate the worldly desires
- Greeting to the Buddha and the deceased
- Role to inform people of a specific time
- Role to inform people about the start of Buddhist ceremonies
Japanese people have traditionally and customarily sounded the temple bells. The bell is a tool that symbolizes a Buddhist temple. It is essential to the temple. There are few temples without bells.
The bell also has meaning to comfort the soul of the dead and pray for peace. The representative one is the bell of the Hiroshima atomic bomb memorial.
Why ring the bell at New Year’s Eve
I introduced four reasons why the Japanese ring the temple’s bell. The reason to ring the bell on the last night of the year is the meaning of 1 and 3.
The official name of the huge bell ringing on New Year’s Eve is called “Bonsho / 梵鐘”. Sho is the meaning of “bell”. BON means “pure”. It is said that the sound of Bonsho’s bell is playing the role of many people waking up to Buddhist teachings. It is a call from the Buddha and a voice preaching Buddhism.
In the Buddhist temple monks and visiting people ring the bell at New Year’s Eve. That is because it tells the end of the year. It is also time to look back on a year.
The temple bell at New Year’s Eve gives us not only joy and wish but also loneliness. We listen to the pure sound of the bell which is the voice of Buddha, and try to remove the dirty heart.
Why ring the bell 108 times
108 is an important number in Japanese Buddhism. Buddhist’s rosary is made up of 108 beads. (108 is the standard, but there are also those with a reduced number so easy to hold, such as 54 pieces and 27 pieces in recent years.)
The number of 108 symbolizes human affliction. The affliction is things such as trouble, suffering and desire. Humans are full of worldly desires, tormenting themselves and hurting others.
For Japanese people 100 is a nice round number and has a lot of impression. The number of 8 is written as “八” and we associate 8 with spread. 108 indicates that there are so many emotions as desire, anger, complaint and so on.
It is believed that the sound of the temple bells (Bonsho) is a pure Buddha voice and removes the unclean spirit. By ringing the temple bells or listening to the sounds, it is said that earthly desires are driven away one by one. For that reason we are ringing the bells 108 times, not just once.
By the way, ringing 108 times is said to be finished within the year is correct. It is to finish ringing 108 which is a symbol of worldly desires within this year and to be able to greet the New Year with a new refreshing mood.
Finally. Complaints that the temple bell is noisy
The Japanese end of the year spends listening to the sound of the Buddhist temple bell. That is the tradition of Japan, it was an important time to look back on a year. The temple bell sound was a tradition of New Year’s Eve.
However, in recent years, we often hear about the fact that the number of temple stops ringing due to complaints that the sound of the bell of New Year’s Eve is noisy in the city.
As a last resort, there is also a temple quietly sounding from the daytime, not the night of New Year’s Eve. Honestly speaking, the number of Japanese who have Buddhist beliefs is decreasing. It is supposed that the sound of the bell of the temple is not Buddha’s voice but just noise.
I am a Buddhist monk. On the night of New Year ‘s Eve, I rings the bell by myself because no one comes to the temple to ring.
Ringing the bells of a Buddhist temple on New Year’s Eve is a representative event in Japan, but in the future the monk may ring with a small sound so that no one can hear it while paying attention.